Longtime party activist and former Highland County Clerk of Courts Paulette Donley is the new chair of the Highland County Republican Party.
Donley was elected Tuesday night in a meeting attended by 18 members of the party’s executive committee. She replaces longtime chair Kay Ayres.
Donley said Wednesday she’s excited to take on her new role and hopes to build on successes the party has seen locally under Ayres’ leadership, although Donald Trump’s recent ascension to the position of presumptive presidential nominee of the GOP brings challenges.
“What a year and what a predicament nationally the party has found themselves in,” said Donley. “But Trump did well in Highland County,” she added.
Trump won the Republican primary in the county in March, even though Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the statewide winner.
But Donley predicted that over time, most of the party will rally behind Trump, bonded by a mutual desire to prevent likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from winning in November.
Even Ayres isn’t exactly sure how long she served as chair. Ayres said Wednesday that Bill Fawley, the county auditor, insists she has been in that role since sometime in the 1970s. But Ayres is celebrating 50 years as a member of the party’s committee.
Technically, Donley is now chair of the GOP executive committee, which reports to the central committee. She has been serving as co-chair of Republican women, and she and Ayres are close allies. Donley said she has not yet chosen a co-chair. No one else threw their hat in the ring for party chair.
Ayres, the wife of retired Dr. David Ayres, will stay involved as finance chair of the party. She recalls first becoming involved because former banker and party leader Bob Hodson told her the GOP needed younger members and said, “I hear you’re a good Republican.”
“I certainly am,” she replied. She and others promptly formed the county’s first Republican club, a separate entity from the county party.
Donley said that in addition to the presidential campaign, the county party will be working this year to elect Terry Britton, the GOP candidate for county commissioner who is facing off against Democratic candidate Tara Campbell and independent hopeful Alex Butler.
She said she hopes to have the Republican Party headquarters on West Main Street open more often, which she said she can do because she lives just a few blocks away. She wants to engage voters, keep a focus on the candidates, and “disseminate as much information as possible, and help keep the rest of the committee involved.”
Donley is married to city council member Dick Donley. She served as clerk of courts for 24 years, until 2012. The chairmanship is a two-year term.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.